Remember

Sometimes, when the going gets tough, it’s tough to get going. Pressure mounts and paralysis sets in. What began with enthusiasm, becomes a constant source of exhaustion. The prize once set before you, now seems beyond your grasp and you feel like you’re barely able to even walk much less run the race.

Disillusioned. Discouraged. Disoriented. Depressed. You don’t know how you can keep on keepin’ on.

Kind of describes the prevailing mood halfway through the great wall re-building campaign of Nehemiah’s day.

The rubble was being cleared and the wall around Jerusalem was taking shape. But the opposition was also becoming greater.

At first, the enemies of God’s people were just “greatly displeased” that Nehemiah had returned with the king’s blessing to “seek the welfare of the people of Israel” (Neh. 2:10). Then, when they heard that Nehemiah was promoting the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls, they laughed out loud and mocked such folly (2:19). When the people actually came together and started making a bit of progress, then their enemies became “angry and greatly enraged,” their mocking laughter turning to spitting derision (4:1-3).

But when they saw the walls at half height, the enemies of God determined to take action, “and they all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause confusion in it” (4:7). And that was the straw that seemed to break the camel’s back . . . or at least break the people’s spirit.

In Judah it was said, “The strength of those who bear the burdens is failing. There is too much rubble. By ourselves we will not be able to rebuild the wall.”

(Nehemiah 4:10 ESV)

Or as Peterson puts it, “The builders are pooped, the rubbish piles up; Were in over our heads, we cant build this wall” (MSG).

And it was true, they were in over their heads.

For as long and hard as they had been working, the piles of debris were still surrounding them.  What’s more, the more they kept faithfully laboring at the task before them, the greater the opposition was growing around them. While at first they might have shot back at their enemies with “Sticks and stones may break my bones but names can never hurt me”, now the other guys were preparing to come at them with “sticks and stones.” Insults were about to give way to injury.

But what they may have failed to notice was that they were in over their heads in another aspect as well. The wall, being half built, was over their heads. Significant, against-all-odds progress was being made. But the overwhelming circumstance of the present caused them to forget God’s provision of the past and so they weren’t sure they could press on into the future.

Enter Nehemiah . . .

And I looked and arose and said to the nobles and to the officials and to the rest of the people, “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes.”

(Nehemiah 4:14 ESV)

Remember, says Nehemiah. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome.

Mounting pressure required a moment of perspective. The task before them was still doable in light of the God who promised to always be behind them. The enemies around them paled in comparison to the Lord among them. While they might have been in over their heads, they needed to pause and reflect on the Sovereign who is head over all.

Maybe easier said than done. But still needing to be done.

Before they’d be ready to resume the fight, they first needed to pause, pray, and not forget.

Not forget that our God is a great and awesome God. That the work He has called us to begin, He will enable us to finish. That the race He wants us to run, He has already won. That pressure we might feel can be offset by the power He has promised. That while our enemies might seek to devour us, greater is our Savior who has delivered us.

Sometimes you just need to remember. To be still and know that He is God–that the LORD of hosts is with us and the God of Jacob is our stronghold (Ps. 46:10-11). To be still and believe that His strength is made perfect in our weakness (2Cor. 12:9).

Such, it would seem, is at least one of the keys to unlocking all sufficient grace.

Such, it is sure, is the type of response that will bring Him all deserving glory.

Amen?

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Walk in Integrity

To be honest, while I like hanging out in Proverbs, it becomes harder for me once we actually get to the proverbs. To engage in the first nine chapters of the book, the father’s arguments and impassioned appeals to his son to seek wisdom, is much easier for me than to take in the random bits of wisdom presented afterward. Working through, and meditating upon the concepts, ideas, and word pictures in the “introduction” is far more aligned to the way my brain functions than to try and read and process 20+ verses in a chapter which often declare 20+ different maxims.

So, this morning I decided to take one of the proverbs presented in my reading and see what all of Proverbs says about it. Rather than try and take in multiple words of advice, focus on one and, by God’s enabling and illuminating Spirit, take that away with me for the day.

Today’s word of wisdom is integrity.

Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but he who makes his ways crooked will be found out.

(Proverbs 10:9 ESV)

In the ESV, integrity is spoken of eight times in Proverbs–twice in the first nine chapters, six times in the actual proverbs (10:9, 11:3, 19:1, 20:7, 28:6, 28:18).

Of those six times, except for once, integrity is associated with how one walks. But even the other occurrence talks about integrity as a guide. So integrity is to be intricately linked to how we do life–and, I’m thinking, every aspect of life.

Almost invariably, integrity is contrasted with crookedness. So integrity is about being straight. Rather than walking in a way that is twisted, distorted, or marked by duplicity, integrity would seem to be living in a way that “what you see is what you get.” From motive to manner, from one situation to another, regardless of circumstance and consequence, the one who walks in integrity is going to be sincere, aboveboard, and lay it on the line–a straight line. Their walk is going to line up with their talk. And their talk will truthfully convey how they desire to walk.

And the proverbs layout the benefits of embracing integrity. Integrity results in safety and security, a sure foundation laid from a straight path embraced. It will be a sure guide, a reliable internal GPS, as situations are navigated, decisions are made, and stands taken.

What’s more, in the economy of heaven, integrity is a treasure unto itself. Better to be poor with integrity, says wisdom, than rich and wavering from popular opinion to popular opinion. For while riches have a way of ensnaring those who pursue them, integrity will deliver those who choose it as the way to navigate their life. No promise of avoiding tough or tempting situations, but an assurance of the Lord’s protection upon those who seek to walk blameless before Him.

And finally, wisdom says that integrity has a legacy. That the children of those who, by God’s grace and enabling, seek to walk on straight paths are blessed. These kids, having seen the right stuff modeled by their parents, learn to embrace the right stuff. That as they observe the consistency between how life is done in the secret of their homes and how it is played out in public, they too seek to walk straight.

Integrity. It is the way of wisdom. Vital for skillful living. Of great value in the kingdom of heaven.

To walk in integrity . . . Possible because of grace. To be embraced for His glory.

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Whoever is Simple, Turn in Here!

The one lady has, at great cost to herself, built a magnificent house, seven hewn pillars drawing the eye of those who pass by to its majesty. The other lady sits in front of a ramshackle dump. It’s in obvious need of a coat of paint and in serious disrepair. Yet, it too draws the eyes of those who walk by its way. Not because of its beauty, but because of the seductive attractiveness of the made up woman who lays out in front of it.

The first lady has set a table with only the best cuts of meat and the finest wine. The second? Well, she’s offering stolen water and illicitly obtained bread–but claims there’s something deviously sweet and savory about it when consumed with her in secret.

To dine at lady one’s table is to experience that which is life-giving. But enter into lady two’s dingy banquet room, and once your eyes adjust to the darkness you find those sitting around the table are skeletons, that her guests who come to feast have been consumed themselves by the depths of hell.

Such is the comparison laid out by the sage in Proverbs 9 (verses 1-6 vs. verses 13-18). Two ends of a spectrum with no in-between. These two women defining a fork in the road, one of but two paths having to be chosen. And they both call out to the same audience–the naïve, those still trying to find their way, and the confused, those who still don’t have their act together. Both women extending the same invitation, “Whoever is simple, turn in here!”

“Whoever is simple, let him turn in here! . . .
Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed.
Leave your simple ways, and live, and walk in the way of insight.”  

~ Lady Wisdom  (Proverbs 9:4-6 ESV)

“Whoever is simple, let him turn in here! . . .
Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.”   

~The Woman Folly  (Proverbs 9:16-17 ESV)

And as I noodle on this God-breathed contrast, I am in awe and wonder of Lady Wisdom and the reminder she brings of the way of the gospel.

No holding back in order to prepare the banquet. God sending His Son to make ready the table. Requiring the Christ to be all in to make available the feast. His body offered, His blood shed, that there might be a place for all who would heed His call to come, turn in here, and eat with Him.

Offering food that gives life and life eternal. Bread come down from heaven itself, that “whoever feeds on this bread will live forever” (John 6:58).

Opting not for the way of passivity, not content to just set the table and sit back and wait for the simple to stumble upon it. Instead, sending out His messengers to the high places, leaving the pristine palace of glory and going where the people are dabbling in the pursuit of idolatry.

And to all, to the simple and to the those who think themselves wise . . . to those who lack sense and to those who think they have it all figured out . . . to all, He says, “Come! Turn in here!”

Make your way to My table by faith. Eat of the food I offer, trusting that I really am the way, the truth, and the life. Receive it, though as the simple, and enter into the knowledge of God.

O Lamb of God, I come!

What wondrous grace! To Him be all the glory!

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Delighting in the Children of Man

Proverbs 8. It’s why I do what I do when it comes to Proverbs. It’s why I shade every reference to wisdom in blue, my color for God the Son. While the sage portrays her as Lady Wisdom, raising her voice and inviting the simple to heed her counsel, that she is also personified in Christ seems evident as she declares her relationship to creation.

When [the LORD] established the heavens, I was there; when He drew a circle on the face of the deep, when He made firm the skies above, when He established the fountains of the deep, when He assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress His command, when He marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside Him, like a master workman, and I was daily His delight, rejoicing before Him always.

(Proverbs 8:27-30 ESV)

Wisdom was there, like a master workman, when God created the earth. Just as the incarnate Word, Jesus the Christ, was in the beginning. Was with God. Was God. And “all things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:1-3). Through God’s beloved Son, “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation, . . . all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities–all things were created through Him and for Him” (Col. 1:15-16).

Jesus is the Master Workman of creation. Jesus is Wisdom . . . God’s daily delight, loved of the Father since “before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24). Rejoicing always before Him as together they created what was good.

To hear Wisdom’s beckoning voice, is to hear Christ cry out, “Come to Me.” To meditate on the promises of Wisdom–that those who seek her find her (8:17) . . . that those who love her will be given an abundant inheritance (8:21) . . . that those who find her will find life and obtain favor from the LORD (8:35)–is to recognize how those promises are realized through relationship with the living Son of God.

That’s why, in my Bible, Wisdom is blue . . . and it’s Christ who is extolled as His voice cries out in these opening chapters of Proverbs.

And so, if it is Christ who is found in Lady Wisdom, then it’s His voice I hear this morning when she says,

. . . then I was beside Him, like a master workman, and I was daily His delight, rejoicing before Him always, rejoicing in His inhabited world and delighting in the children of man.

(Proverbs 8:30-31 ESV)

Jesus delights in the children of man. Celebrates in the wondrous creation of mankind. Having created them to love them, He takes great pleasure in them.

And even though rebellion has marked them, though they have given their Creator their back and not their face, though sin has marred and stained those made in the image of the Divine, He still delights in them . . . so much so, that He died so as to redeem them.

And though, even as redeemed, we stumble over ourselves trying to walk in a manner worthy of our calling, He continues to delight in us. As His creation and as His re-creation.

Having come not to condemn the children of man, but that, through Him, the sons and daughters of creation might be saved (John 3:17). Redeeming and reconciling us not to shadow us with disapproval as we falter and fail, but finding pleasure in us as He patiently forms within us His own nature–the image of Christ. Infusing within our spiritual DNA Wisdom herself.

Words can’t express what it is to be the object of His delight. Our highest thoughts can’t fathom His thoughts toward us.

But as we look to the cross, we get an idea of His desire toward us. As we consider the empty tomb, we start to grasp His power to fulfill what He has promised. As we think about heaven, we sense a measure of the joy He longs to share with those He has made and re-made.

All praise be to the Master Workman! Thanks be given to Her who cries out inviting us to partake of heaven’s great Wisdom! Let us worship alone the Son who so delights in the children of man.

Rejoicing in His grace. Seeking only His glory.

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The Way of Life

She must have been a beauty. Her allure bordering on irresistible. ‘Cause the father keeps warning his son about her, again and again, in these opening chapters of Proverbs. With the batting of her eyelashes, she captures the unsuspecting’s attention (6:25). With her seductive flattery, she draws him near (7:21). Her lips dripping with honey, her speech “smoother than oil” (5:3), she draws him closer and closer to her door, eventually inviting him into her house.

“Keep your way far from her,” warns Wisdom (5:8). For to even give her a second glance is to run the risk of becoming addicted to her intoxicating ways. And it won’t turn out well.

Can a man carry fire next to his chest and his clothes not be burned? Or can one walk on hot coals and his feet not be scorched?

(Proverbs 6:27-28 ESV)

Who doesn’t know that? Play with fire, you’re gonna get burned. The problem is recognizing the fire. The trick is being on guard against the subtle, disguised call of infidelity. Believing that she’s out there. If not in a person, in the ways of a world which compete for those betrothed to Another, subtly calling them to ways of unfaithfulness.

So how do we recognize her voice? How do see the deception–and eventual destruction–that is hers?

My son, keep your fathers commandment, and forsake not your mothers teaching. Bind them on your heart always; tie them around your neck. When you walk, they will lead you; when you lie down, they will watch over you; and when you awake, they will talk with you. For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching a light, and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life, to preserve you from the evil woman, from the smooth tongue of the adulteress.

(Proverbs 6:20-24 ESV)

We need to heed instruction. To bind the Father’s words on our hearts and tie them around our necks. Not literally, as did the Pharisees with their ostentatious phylacteries tied about their heads and arms, but enveloping our minds and souls with His teaching such that it lead us, watches over us, and speaks to us. So internalizing His commandments that they truly become a lamp and light, preserving us from the seductive calls of darkness.

Makes sense doesn’t it? But why is it so hard to do? Here’s what hit me this morning . . . the last part of verse 23 . . .

. . . and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life . . .

Who likes reproof? Uh, not me.

I might say I value “constructive criticism” and that I won’t become defensive, but not gonna lie, my natural reaction is to bristle at rebuke. As humble as I think I might try to be, something about being chastised that wakes up the pride monster within me (probably because he’s not in that deep of sleep anyhow).

But if I’m gonna stay away from the fire, if I’m serious about avoiding hot coals in my lap, if I really believe that the seductress is really as seductive as the Father says she is, then I’m gonna need to envelope myself with the Word of God and brace myself for it’s reproving work in my life.

And when my failure is exposed, I need to apply again the blood of Christ shed for all my failure. When my fickleness is made evident, I need to put on again the Son of God who Himself is ever faithful. When the flesh’s temptation to heed the seductress’s voice is made manifest, I need to, by the power of the Spirit indwelling me, crucify the flesh which has already died with Christ.

Reproof. It’s the way of life.

It’s the practical path to realizing the fullness promised through the gospel. The nuts and bolts for remaining true to Him who has betrothed me as His own.

The way made possible because of His grace. The way made possible for His glory.

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The Ultimate Personal Assistant

All in all, she’s pretty helpful. She’s full of useful information. She tells me how to get places. She takes dictation and sends messages to my girls when I ask her to. She even willingly takes on the task of waking me up in the morning. She really wants to serve. In fact, if she’s able to, she’ll do anything I ask her to do. (It always bugged Sue that I didn’t thank her more often). She is the virtual personal assistant on my phone–and phone is the modern code word for the computer in my shirt pocket.

I know I risk sounding like an old person, but today’s technology really is kind of mind-boggling if you just pause and think about it for a minute. Couldn’t have imagined years ago that I would be talking into thin air, speaking into an empty room, “Hey Siri . . . wake me up at 5:00 a.m.” Much less that my phone would immediately respond, “Your 5:00 a.m. alarm is on. Don’t worry, I won’t forget.” (with an Australian accent, no less).

This morning I’m noodling on another personal assistant. Another lady who wants to help. But this isn’t some new technology. She is an ancient, heaven-sent provision. And her name is Wisdom.

Get wisdom; get insight; . . . Do not forsake her, and she will keep you; love her, and she will guard you. . . . Prize her highly, and she will exalt you; she will honor you if you embrace her. She will place on your head a graceful garland; she will bestow on you a beautiful crown.

(Proverbs 4:5-9 ESV)

She will keep you. She will guard you. She will exalt you. She will honor you. She will crown you with a glorious wreath of grace. Ok, who doesn’t want to get to know her?

And that’s the father’s plea to his son, the plea he heard from his father(4:3-4a). Get her! Get wisdom!

Don’t neglect her, don’t let her go. But love her. Esteem her greatly–put her at the top of your priority list. Throw your arms around her and hold on to her for dear life. For she is the ultimate personal assistant.

And she’s not sourced in some micro-circuitry. No, she is found in and through the living God. Not available only to those who can pay the price for such technology, but available to all without cost because the price was paid 2,000 years ago on a Roman cross. Found not in a little black box that fits in your pocket or purse, instead, flowing from within regenerated hearts and minds through the living Spirit of God who imparts the heart and mind of Christ.

Available 24/7. Seeking only to help us know practically the life abundant promised eternally. Wanting to keep us, guard us, exalt and honor us. Ready to adorn us with the beauty of grace.

If we don’t forsake her. If we love and prize her. If we embrace her.

Oh the riches that are available to us through the wisdom, insight, and understanding that are ours in Christ, by His Spirit, and through God’s word.

Makes my Australian helper pale in comparison.

Oh that I would call upon Her who is from above more than I would talk to her who sits on my desk.

‘Cause that’s where the grace is experienced. That’s where the glory is known.

Amen?

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Put God On, Put God In

Bind it around your neck. Adorn yourself with it. Let yourself be confined by it. Let it tie you up and fence you in. Be marked by it. Put it on.

What’s more, write it on your heart. Etch it on your soul. Engrave it within your very being. Let it define you. Put it in.

That’s what’s grabbed me this morning as the pro-wisdom father continues his appeal to his still very malleable son.

And what does he want his son to put on? What is it, of such great value and worth, that he wants him to put in? I’m thinking it’s God Himself.

Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart. So you will find favor and good success in the sight of God and man.

(Proverbs 3:3-4 ESV)

Steadfast love and faithfulness. Don’t let them go, says the fatherly counselor. Don’t allow them to escape. Beware of letting them slip away through inattention or neglect. Don’t release your grasp on them. Never seek to be loosed of them. For when they are upon you, and within you, you have put on, and put in, God Himself.

The LORD descended in the cloud and stood with [Moses] there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness . . . And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped.

(Exodus 34:5-6 ESV)

Moses wanted to see the glory of God (Ex. 33:18). He wanted the full experience of His presence. And so God descended and showed Himself a glimpse of Himself–His glory manifest in His person. The light emitted through His nature. And part of that glory? An eternal abundance of steadfast love and faithfulness.

Steadfast love and faithfulness. That’s what the deliverer of Israel saw. That’s what the father of Proverbs wants his son never to lose hold of. That’s what we possess in Christ. That’s what we put on when we put on Christ. That’s what have within when Christ lives within us.

And so the exhortation, put on God, put in God.

It’s not about doing, it’s about being. Not a fidelity to religious observance, but a transformation through the living Spirit.

We put Him on when we pursue being imitators of God with all our heart (Eph 5:1). We put Him in when we partake of His word and are transformed by the renewing of our minds (Rom. 12:2). Over time, the attributes of God Himself, steadfast love and faithfulness, are woven into our spiritual DNA. The likeness of the Father, manifest through the Son, are more and more apparent in His children, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit.

And ours is to not let go. To not stop running the race. To not tap out in the struggle.

But to bind Him on our neck. Write Him on our heart. To not forsake God’s steadfast love and faithfulness.

Put God on. Put God in.

By His grace. For His glory.

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